Sony's Rally Cross is one of the more unique racing games to arrive on a console system in some time.
In this climate of cookie-cutter video games, it's rare when a title adds something new to a genre. Even games that are considered great often only do something that has already been done countless times before. And this observation most definitely holds true for racing games. So how does Rally Cross stack up? Suffice to say that this is one of the first PlayStation racing titles that brings innovation to the genre, and it offers a wonderfully entertaining gaming experience.
Perhaps Rally Cross is best described as a Sega Rally without the training wheels. Both are similar conceptually: Race your vehicle through twisty, off-road courses filled with sloppy anomalies such as sand, mud, and water. Rally Cross, however, drastically ups the ante by taking this style of racing to a higher level of realism. Instead of your car merely losing speed because it runs into the side of the road (or another obstacle), other more costly events occur. These events include flipping your vehicle over, such that it lands on its back to become something like a helpless turtle. Although a vehicle may be rocked back to its upright position, too many crashes will probably keep you out of the winner's circle. The numerous different vehicles at your disposal are wild, to say the least. They are excellently dressed in vivid paint jobs, which gives them a bit of character despite their anonymous designs (none of them are real cars). As they hit the rough terrain, you can see their suspensions struggle to keep the car balanced. And when struck by something rougher (say another car), the various panels come away with gashes, dents, and cracks.
Precisely because of these new wrinkles, Rally Cross can be classified as more of a thinking man's racing game. In many courses, the key to winning the race is careful, concise driving, as opposed to pure speed. That is to say, if you have an especially heavy lead foot you could be in for a long day at the races. It doesn't take any wacky logic to figure out how to keep yourself on all fours, just some practice and common sense. Avid fans of other racing titles, such as Ridge Racer or Sega Rally, might have a tough time adjusting. But it's worth the effort (using a NegCon may ease the transition). Once you're used to the control, this dynamic gameplay can be used to your advantage - side-swiping opponents and pushing them into obstacles (which sends them into a tremendously satisfying end-over-end roll) is all a part of the game.
Rally Cross's 3-D graphics are beautiful and will immediately make an impression before you even get a chance to appreciate the aforementioned gameplay. The tracks are splendidly detailed, with lush scenery around every corner. As your car plows through the dirt, water, and snow at high speeds, messy sprays of debris are kicked up. This, of course, contributes to the down-and-dirty edge that any off-road racing game should have. On the downside, the sound isn't worthy of the game. The music is very uninspiring and annoying. It isn't a stretch to say that Rally Cross' best option is the one that allows you turn the music completely off. The sound effects are average and are composed of the typical racing fare - engine noises, cars hitting each other, and the creaks of suspensions struggling to do their thankless jobs.
Racing games typically have a long play life, and Rally Cross could hold the pole position in this category for quite some time. The game sports six play options, including a Season mode, a Head On mode (which allows a two-car duel), and Solo, which pits you against the clock. Six different tracks are available, and each contains three different variations. There's even an extra option that enables you race a track forwards and backwards. To top it all off, up to four players can compete simultaneously via a split-screen. Although the frame rate of a four-player game is chopped roughly in half, this mode is still quite playable and offers a lot of fun.
Sony's Rally Cross is one of the more unique racing games to arrive on a console system in some time. With a little persistence, racing fans and rookie drivers alike can appreciate what this game has to offer, and should certainly rev this title up for a test drive.